Saturday, 1 November 2008

Living a hidden or epic life - Michael Piret's reflections for All Saints day

Michael Piret of Magdelen College Oxford gave a fine reflection for All Saints Day on Radio 4's Prayer for the Day. Taking up themes from George Eliot's wonderful book Middlemarch, Piret spoke about epic and ordinary human lives, saying that perhaps a tomb of an unknown saint should also be built, like the tomb of the unknown soldier, in celebration of ordinary lives.
The heroine of Middlemarch is Dorothea Brooke and Piret ended his meditation by quoting part of the last paragraph of the book (in my copy this is on page 896!) in celebration of the majority of us who try to somehow faithfully live our "hidden lives". Here's a slightly longer extract:
But we insignificant people with our daily words and acts are preparing the lives of many Dorotheas, some of which may present a far sadder sacrifice than that of the Dorothea whose story we know.
Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

Today I give thanks for all the saints, particularly those whose hidden lives I am privileged to share in the here and now. I also give thanks that a guardian angel was watching over one of those hidden lives so effectively earlier this week.

If you click on this link you can get to the "listen again"page of all this week's prayer for today. The others this were all Hindu reflections on Divali by Shaunaka Rishi Das. Be warned though, the beginning of each podcast tends to be the announcer telling you what happened on this day in history - today for instance was the day Michael Angelo first unveiled the Sistine chapel. His was not a hidden life.
But as I reflect on epic and hidden lives I also wonder about our modern obsession with so-called celebrity, our seeming need to claim everything as epic, and our incapacity to value and encourage ordinary hidden lives as meaningful. Somehow the saintly path is to aspire to become more godly and more truly ourselves. Yet a recent OECD report about poverty in Britain pointed to the wealth gap narrowing but to the "hello" magazine culture making people feel poor as they compare what they have with what the mega-rich have.

So will finding more meaning in our extraordinary, wonderful ordinary hidden lives help us feel more satisfied - not only with what we have but what we are? (Ah, preacher heal thyself!)